Teesmouth Bird Club
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Saltergill Woods and Beck by Alistair McLee


The site comprises a mixture of woodland, scrub, semi improved pasture, pasture, arable and watercourse at the very western edge of Cleveland.

The woodland is an eclectic mixture of mature oak, beech and ash with areas of over mature hawthorn scrub and hazel. In some areas there has been extensive recolonisation by birch and ash containing many dying trees. The beck is in some areas over hung by trees and in other it flows through sheep pasture with a few alders and steeply eroded banks. Good views are obtainable from the public footpaths or off the rough track.

The site has been recently famous for sightings of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the spring, but there is no reason to suppose that patient study of winter tit flocks would not be rewarding too. I recall accidentally finding a Hawfinch nest building in 1973, Tree pipits were there until the early 1980s, Wood Warblers were there still about that time too. Up until 10 years ago I remember Turtle Dove being present and Woodcock roding in the evenings. With the exception of wintering Woodcock, these species are now absent.

It is not all bad news, however. Green Woodpeckers have re appeared and good old Great Spotted make three! Nuthatch is regular too (and I always feel and local woodland supporting this bird is well worth checking for the elusive Lesser Spots too e.g. Leven/Weary Bank, Stewarts Park) but I digress. As well as the common tits, Marsh Tit breeds there and Willow Tit is heard infrequently. Tree Creeper nests there too in the fragmenting birch trees. Sparrow Hawk breed most years and display chasing can be observed by sitting quietly.

Down stream, just outside the county the beck is open and runs through grazed pasture. There is a small colony of Sand Martins and Kingfisher regularly feed there and sometimes breed too. When the Tees is in flood, female Goosanders feed synchronously in the breeding season. I have also seen otter tracks under the bridge, but for birding purposes, the best way to view is from a vehicle in the lay-by north of the beck, looking downwards.

A walk along the rough track which runs North / South will yield the usual summer warblers, with the occasional Sedge Warbler if rape is sown in the adjacent arable fields. I always hear Lesser White Throat at the southern end of the track at Forest Lane in the area of the Tree Sparrow colony. There is usually a temporary pond in an adjacent field which attracts summering Lapwing and a pair of Oystercatchers. Always keep an eye upwards for Buzzard overhead as these BOPs are getting more common in the west of the county as they colonise the Tees valley from upstream.

Botanically speaking, the old meadow area has been greatly spoiled by addition of fertilizer but Early Purple Orchids flower in varying numbers each year in the west wood.

The field hedges are interesting, having been surveyed and classified as ancient, with the presence of the classic indicator species of Hazel, Field Maple, Dogwood, Burnet Rose and Guilder Rose.

The usual butterflies of meadows are to be found in season, and Speckled Wood has settled in well in the last couple of years.

On the mammals scene, I have recorded Brown Hares with mental ill health in spring in the fields, Fox, Roe Deer, Weasel and Stoat. The bats certainly need to be checked by some person with the proper kit to differentiate all the small fluttery jobs, but I have seen Daubentons on the stream and once a passage of Noctules on their way to the Tees. Interestingly the Wildlife Trust’s on- going mammals’ survey, has a record of Muntjac Deer a few miles away. There are not too many pieces of woodland cover in the area so one should be alert to the presence of this skulking little beast.

The whole experience of wildlifing in this site, is to site quietly and only move occasionally to another vantage position. Stick to the paths, as the birds are used to peoples’ presence there. Trying to creep around furtively is pointless as the local Jays will only mark down and the game is up.

Getting there

Park tactfully, either in the road near the abandoned Saltergill School at the north end of the track, or just off Forest Lane on the track at the south end.

Alistair McLee (January 2008)

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